Red Bull Racing has admitted that it cannot understand why Sebastian Vettel's car failed the mandatory post-session fuel check after qualifying at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, resulting in the world champion being stripped of his times.
Vettel had posted the third-fastest time during the final ten-minute session, and was due to line up behind poleman Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber but, having failed to get his car back to parc ferme
, then had to wait nearly five hours to learn that he would be sent to the back of the grid, as the scrutineers struggled to get the necessary litre of fuel out of the RB8's tanks for checks.
Team principal Christian Horner insisted that the car had not been under-fuelled, as Lewis Hamilton's had been in Barcelona, but confirmed that the problem had been in extracting the fuel from the fuel cell. He conceded that this amounted to a technical breach of the rules, and that the stewards' decision was fair, before confirming that the team would not be contesting the penalty.
“During the slow down lap following the final run of Q3, Renault instructed [us] to immediately stop Sebastian's car on the circuit due to an issue with the fuel system," he explained, "After speaking with the stewards, who accepted the situation of force majeure
for technical reasons for the car to be stopped, unfortunately, for reasons yet to be fully understood, [only] 850ml of the required one litre was pumped out of the car following post race checks.
"As a result, the FIA has excluded Sebastian from qualifying and we will withdraw the car from parc ferme
in order to investigate further. Therefore, Sebastian will start from the pit-lane for tomorrow's race. We will need to make the most of Mark's strong front-row grid position and Sebastian will have a busy evening ahead of him.”
Vettel's exclusion comes as an unexpected opportunity for Ferrari and Fernando Alonso who, having fallen 13 points behind the German with three rounds to run, faced starting four spots behind him on the grid at Yas Marina. Alonso will now move up to the outside of row three, lining up alongside McLaren's Jenson Button, but will need to finish at least third - without Vettel making the top ten - to return to the top of the standings. With the RB8 likely to be the better car throughout the run-in, however, the Spaniard should be eyeing the top two steps of the podium.
Observers have criticised Red Bull for taking its eye off the ball during qualifying, suggesting that it should have concentrated on making no mistakes on Vettel's car, and ensuring that the German was ahead of Alonso on the grid, rather than trying to take the fight to Hamilton and McLaren. Although he split Friday's practice sessions with the Briton, brake problems limited Vettel to just a handful of laps in Saturday's session, and on the back foot even before a couple of scruffy laps denied him top spot in either of the opening phases of qualifying.